Global rates of spam, viruses and phishing e-mails stagnated in the last month, managed e-mail provider MessageLabs has reported.

Month-on-month, levels for all three mostly stayed where they had been in the previous month. Spam rates actually decreased slightly from January, falling from 66.6 percent to 60.6 percent, while viruses fell from one in 41.7 e-mails to one in 44.1, or 2.3 percent of traffic. Only phishing saw any increase but this was modest, rising from one in 395 to one in 335.

The company predicts that spam might rise in the short term, although this is after a marked and consistent decline since a peak in July 2004, when the company said an astonishing 94.5 percent of its e-mail traffic was made up of spam.

Phishing and viruses are harder to call, and tend to fluctuate from month to month based on a range of variables such as the emergence of vulnerabilities.

One surprising statistic was that nine out of ten e-mails sent to businesses in India are now spam, as compared with 76.7 percent in Hong Kong, 70 percent in Israel, and 64 percent in the US. Japan had the lowest spam rate of any country measured, at 23.5 percent.

The United Arab Emirates now has the highest rate of viruses relative to its traffic, standing at one in 13.9 e-mails. In that category, India is actually the lowest, with only one in 63.7.

Do reports such as this tell us anything useful? The anti-phishing working group’s (APWG) [PDF] latest analysis of phishing levels for December showed that while the number of such e-mails has decreased, the number of sites attempting the fraud had actually increased.

This might support the hypothesis that while certain kinds of malware are decreasing in volume, this is because they are now being more carefully targeted. The same could be true for spam and viruses as well, but only future months will reveal whether this is the case, or that the generally lower volumes are here to stay.